TEN years since her Mercury Prize-nominated first album, and four since her last, Irish singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes returns this spring with Let It Break.
Released last month on her own Fullfill label, via Universal, her fourth studio set is being promoted with a gig at The Duchess in York on Tuesday.
Gemma had been living in Los Angeles at the time she brought out 2008’s The Hollow of Morning but has since returned to Dublin.
“When I went over to LA I fell in love with the place, but then I fell out of love with it after four years,” says Gemma.
Why? “My visa ran out! So I moved back to Ireland, which was huge for me, very emotional, a big upheaval. I had to sell my car and all my furniture. I was torn between LA and Ireland anyway because I missed my family, I missed Dublin, but then when I was in Dublin I was fed up with the grey skies!”
Gemma had initially gone out to California when she felt emboldened to take the bull by the horns. “I moved there originally to work with Nigel Godrich, the Radiohead producer, of all people, who was recording with Beck and Paul McCartney at the time,” she says.
“I was desperate to work with him, so I sent him my music and he politely declined to produce it but said he might be able to do it the next year, but I couldn’t wait as it had already been three years since my previous album.
“He did say, though, that he could mix it, so I got on the plane and took the album over there!”
Move forward to late 2009, with her visa expired, it was time for Gemma to bond with Dublin once more. “It took me a few months to settle and unpack the boxes and re-acclimatise,” she says. “Six months later I decided to pull my socks up, write some songs.
“I had all these ideas but I’d procrastinated, but then I decided to finish them in my studio with my Pro Tools. I hired the musicians and cracked on with it and it gave me a lot of focus.
“This was something I could control and that felt brilliant. Sometimes albums can be hard work; the previous one had been stop-start, but this time I block-booked the studio, working from morning till late at night, eating Chinese takeaway. It felt like a family gathering, working on this album.”
The record was produced by Gemma and David Odlum – her “go-to-guy” from his work on her first album and EPs – mainly in Dublin but also in his studios in France, and now she is promoting it on the road with multi-instrumentalist Ann Scott and drummer Binzer.
Let It Break has a theme of saying goodbyes and hellos and a title that indicates change. “It all comes from that time when I was trying to control way too many things,” says Gemma. “A friend said, ‘What happens if you just let go?’, as I’d taken on everything, trying to run my career and solve family problems.”
She let go and… “The great thing is, nothing broke. Some people got a little stiff in the collar, but then things sorted themselves out anyway and I realised that maybe I was butting in when I didn’t need to, so I just thought, ‘let it go, let it burn, let it break’,” says Gemma.
“It was me declaring it for myself, and if it triggers something in other people, asking what it means, then great.”
“Let It Break” is the first line from the album’s closing song, Noise. “It says ‘let it break, you’ll feel better'. It’s a song that deals with chaos …but now that I feel settled, I’ve got itchy feet again!” admits Gemma, who turns 35 in August.
Guess where she is heading next? Yes, Los Angeles, of course. “A company is happy to sponsor my visa, so I’ll probably go back there for three years,” says the restless Gemma.
First, however, those itchy feet must wend their way to York for the first time on Tuesday.
Gemma Hayes plays The Duchess, York, on Tuesday, supported by Sons Of Caliber, 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 477 1000.